Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone: Inclusion and Collaboration Training for Severn Teachers
On Friday, February 16th, faculty from our Lower, Middle and Upper Schools gathered for a morning of discussions and workshops about perceptions, triggers, and bias. Facilitated by inclusion and collaboration consultant, trustee, and former Severn parent, Charles Belo, our faculty examined how personal values, cultural identifiers, and thought processes can impact our interactions with each other and our students. As we strive toward a more inclusive community this work helps improve communication and create a learning environment where our students can thrive.
Mr. Belo began the session with an exercise in thought patterns and perceptions. He showed the group a slide of words — blue, yellow, green, red, etc. — each was written in a different color than the word indicated. He asked the faculty to quickly recite the words from left to right and we did so in unison. He then asked us to “read” the slide again, reciting the colors that we saw rather than the words themselves. This proved to be a much greater challenge. Try it yourself.
He asked us to consider what happened between the first experience and the next. Reading the words from left to right was easy, it’s almost an unconscious act. “Reading” the colors was much more difficult. We had to slow down and think about what we were doing. He referred to these two types of thinking as systems one thinking — automatic, fast and efficient — and systems two thinking — slow, methodical and deliberate.
Every one of us approaches situations with a set of expectations, values, cultural identifiers and bias. If we are not deliberate in understanding ourselves and others around us, we will default into systems one thinking. We have to slow down to make sure our responses aren’t just automatic — that we are purposeful in how we choose to interact with the world.
Perceptions and Bias
Mr. Belo stressed that in order to overcome bias with systems two thinking, we must first take a look inside to recognize what our personal biases might be. We need to acknowledge how we see the world (perceptions) and how the filter of our own experiences (bias) can shape how we think about what we see. He asked the faculty to consider our values and cultural identifiers (ethnicity, religion, hobbies/lifestyle, gender, and more). We shared in small groups how these identifiers affect interactions with different people in both positive and negative ways.
“We tend to think of bias as having a negative connotation, but it’s just a mechanism that our brains are wired with. Even the most well-intentioned person grapples with bias. It’s neither negative nor positive, it just exists. It’s what you do with bias that can become negative, as repeated unchecked exposure to bias forms stereotypes and prejudice. That’s when slowing down and using systems two thinking can make all the difference.” — Charles Belo
Mr. Belo described a "trigger" as anything that sets you off emotionally. Words, tone, signal, and body language can all be triggers depending on a person's experience. Mr. Belo shared a list of possible triggers with the group — actions ranging from looking at your watch while someone is talking to excluding particular people when greeting coworkers in the morning. We shared which items on the list resonated with us individually — a trigger for one person may be insignificant to someone else. If we rely on systems one thinking with our default perceptions and biases in place, we can unknowingly trigger others and create an environment that makes it difficult to learn or perform. Again, he returned to the idea that we must engage our systems two thinking and be thoughtful about how we navigate every situation at school.
Step Outside of Your Comfort Zone
Finally, Mr. Belo discussed specific strategies to use systems two thinking to overcome bias in the classroom:
Intentionally and meaningfully engage with others that are different from you
Seek exposure to individuals that contradict widely held stereotypes
Counter stereotypical images, seek out unique and rich visual material to demonstrate concepts to your class
Take ample time to carefully process a situation before making a decision
All of these strategies take intentional practice and work — they cause you to step outside of your comfort zone and push past the easier, automatic thinking from day to day. But if we do, we will create a stronger community where our students see themselves in our teaching and feel empowered to express their authentic selves. We grow stronger every time we have these discussions and get to know one another. We grow stronger every time we put the needs of our students at the forefront of our minds. This is one of many steps that we are taking to form a healthy, open community where everyone has a voice and every voice is heard.
Professional Development Philosophy
As a student-centered institution, Severn School believes that adults should model the qualities they wish to see in their students. To that end, adults at Severn engage in professional development as a community of learners. Severn believes that adults learn best in collaborative situations where professional growth is valued.
We provide built-in professional development opportunities throughout the school year, support faculty travel to conferences, offer grants for personal and professional growth, and offer a robust line-up of summer PD classes taught by and for Severn faculty. Our hope is that faculty will engage frequently in professional development so as to remain nimble for change in our evolving world.